With its pavements long pounded by innumerable pairs of Doc Martens over the years, Tjärhovsgatan has long been an unofficial meeting point of punk rockers, skateboarders, progressive minds and self-acclaimed misfits. The street provides a beautiful backdrop for the artfully bedraggled souls that frequent its haunts.
Situated on the boho paradise of Söder, Tjärhovsgatan is rooted in Medborgarplatsen and runs parallel to Folkungagatan, reaching just beyond Renstiernas gata. With legendary watering hole Kvarnen on one end and grassroots hotspot Kafé 44 on the other, a wealth of history sits between the two. The street’s name derives from a former tar distillery down in Tegelviken, which now harbours the Finland-bound boats. The historic Katarina fire station and the architectural gem that is Katarina Norra Skola count amongst the most notable institutions along the street, together with rural treasures such as the old farmhouses that dot the street and the stately manor by Björns Trädgård. The park was named after Karl Fredrik Björn, a botanical enthusiast who in the late 1800s planted a large garden filled with medicinal plants at the site.
On a sunny fall afternoon a group of skaters clad in black hoodies are visible surrounding the leaf-filled bowls of Björns Trädgård. Bearded middle-aged men cycle past stencilled and graffiti-covered walls, children frolick around the courtyard of Katarina Norra Skola and the football fields across the street, and Palestinian-scarfed youths bounce between Carmen and Kapsylen in search of the cheapest beer and tastiest chai the island has to offer. The Sofo hipster has begun his migration over Folkungagatan though, infiltrating this radical quarter with his café lattes, V-necks and black fedoras.
Art and anarchism
Located in a beautiful brick building that used to serve as a cap factory dating from the year 1900, Kapsylen is a work collective with an art colony bent. The commune was founded in 1978 by a group of artists and architects with the ideology that together they could manage a property and develop self-sufficient workspaces and meeting places for creative minds. The result was a free and vibrant cultural centre with theatre, music, poetry, printing, publishing, and art studios and exhibitions that continues to flourish. Today the building provides offices for close to 100 people and houses a variety of cultural activities and companies that still uphold the original ideals. During the first three weekends of December, Kapsylen throws their yearly Christmas Market where members sell art and handcrafted items to the public.
To get there
The optimal way to reach Tjärhovsgatan is to take the tunnelbana’s green line and get off at Medborgarplatsen. The Björns Trädgård exit basically drops you off at the doorsteps of the street. You could also enter it by the backdoors, by taking either bus 2 or 3 which run down Renstiernasgata, getting out at Tjärhovsplan and turning the corner down the street.
Eating and Drinking
Kvarnen is of course a Stockholm institute of grand standards. This century-old bar and restaurant started off as a working-class beer hall and took its name from a windmill which had stood at the restaurant’s location since the 1600s. Although Kvarnen has earned a trend status over the past years and added some new lounge-like bars in the back, it has managed to preserve its everyday charm and historic interior, serving hearty “husmanskost” to a mix of football fans, old regulars and Sofo hipsters in a vast and warm room made up of wooden benches, imposing pillars, stained glass and framed beer labels.
“Everybody comes to Kvarnen, especially for the beer,” says Christian Wabnig, restaurant manager. “Tjärhovsgatan is a relaxed street with laid-back people and in the last few years more and more people are coming to this part of town, and more tourists for sure.”
Drop Coffee has in cooperation with Coffice managed to create the perfect balance between a workspace and a high quality coffee house on a great corner location on Tjärhovsgatan. The space is raw and basic, black leather matched with white tiles and big industrial lamps looming over plant-like copper structures. The minimalistic look is contrasted with several ferns scattered around the room, injecting it with a homely feel. An army of freelancers occupies the place, equipped with identical mac books and black cups filled with equally black coffee.
“I started off as a bartender, but got tired of the late nights and drunk people,” says Oskar Alvérus, co-owner. “When I met Alexander Ruas and Alexander Sjödin, two coffee enthusiasts that worked in the specialty coffee underground scene, I was introduced to good coffee and realized there were so many things missing in an ordinary cup of coffee. We started experimenting and opened up a small shop near Mariatorget, then moved to Wollmar Yxkullsgatan. After a few years there we wanted to test our concept and stretch out a bit, so we opened up another shop at Tjärhovsgatan. It’s an old butcher’s shop and I wish I owned the place, it’s so beautiful. The architects have done an amazing job preserving and bringing forth the atmosphere of the space.”
“The people we see at Tjärhovsgatan are from all around Södermalm, people with flexible jobs that look at the city as an office. I think with our passion and knowledge of coffee we tend to attract all sorts of people, from the coffee geeks like myself to cool hipsters. The great thing we’ve noticed is that a lot of 60+ people are coming to our place, so there must be a lot of coffee-geek-hipster-oldies out there.”
“I think and hope that the street and area is going to grow a bit more. The hype from Nytorget has not reached us yet. Maybe in the next years.”
Café Tjärlek has two personalities: The front room is like a Mexican fiesta represented by a mix of vivid blue and red shades, rose patterns and colourful plastic birds. The back room has that cosy grandma’s living room vibe that is extra pleasing in the nippy autumn. Victorian fringe lampshades, frilly cushions, floral sofas and wallpapers to match, fancy chandeliers, and festooned gold-framed mirrors and romantic landscape paintings set the tone here, supported by relaxing music and delicious lunch dishes to make Tjärlek a great addition to the city’s rich café selection.
“I’d always wanted to fulfil my dream of running my own café. We’d been looking for the right place for almost five years, and when we found this place a few months ago we fell in love with it,” says co-owner Dinah Gärtner. “I’ve remodelled almost everything, but kept one of the old wallpapers in the back as a reminder of the past here. I’m a very nostalgic person and like old things. I spent a lot of time finding the right antique furniture to match my vision of how I wanted the place to look like. I like things to be a bit different and am inspired by kitsch, romance and old folklore. Everything we do here we do by following our heart. We had a music producer stop by one day who thought the atmosphere was unique and saw potential for events here, so every Thursday and Saturday we have live music and I try to support local musicians by playing their CDs.”
“We’ve been surprised by this quiet little street as it has a lot of hidden wonders. There’s an artistic vibe here, with architecture and design offices, galleries and of course Kapsylen across the street, and we see a lot of artists, actors and musicians because of that. Loreen even spent her birthday here. There’s a great mix of people on the street and in our café. We get everyone from office people having lunch to young people and students, retired pensioners, and families on the weekends. And lovers, of course.”
It’s a Friday afternoon and Kafé 44 is jam packed with blue and black hair, leather jackets, flannel shirts, and knit sweaters. In fact, the girl in the corner is occupied with her knitting and the guy sitting next to her has removed his shoes and reclined on the red leather bench with his laptop. Later they’re visited by a couple of boys carrying guitar cases, probably on their way to band practice. The walls surrounding the group are thick with graffiti; some are wallpapered from floor to ceiling with punk posters and roller derby ads, while others are decorated with murals of protesters. A few of the tables have been painted with chess and backgammon boards, while others are in fact heavy-duty black barrels disguised as tables. The little bookshop at the top of the café offers books and magazines on anarchism along with punk demo tapes and Palestinian scarves. But despite 44-an’s rough-and-ready look and its radical reputation, the atmosphere here is warm and friendly and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Sure, The Slits are playing as I enjoy what is probably the best hummus in town, and most of the staff is sporting dreads, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the amount of jazz music I hear, and the occasional slip-in of cheesy Tupac tunes.
“Kafé 44 is driven as a non-profit co-operative and we’re a part of the Kapsylen collective,” the gang behind 44 tells me. “44-an includes a vegan café, a small music stage and a left-wing alternative bookstore. The people who run this place are anything between 18 and 60 years old, some staying for a few months and some for several years. Our ideals are diverse but we all agree on the need for a place such as ours – independently run, self-managed place for alternative culture and solidarity politics.”
“Over the past years, Tjärhovsgatan has changed some, but still much less than the Sofo area. There’s been a heavy gentrification of Södermalm in general and “Sofo” in particular. The word was created as a marketing ploy to make that area more interesting and to fasten gentrification, which drives up prices and forces out those who have been there a long time. Kapsylen is an independently owned house and has other ideals.”
Shops and Services
Coyote Grind Lounge
Coyote Grind Lounge is a thrasher’s paradise located just up the street from the Björns Trädgård skate park. This is where Söder’s skateboarders gather to gear up before heading down to the bowls to practice their flips and other tricks. Coyote is chock-full of decks, trucks, wheels, caps, grip tape, jeans, tees, sneaks, shades, and hoods; basically everything to indulge the adored board and its proud rider.
Owner Hans “Corky” Koraeus is a bit of a Swedish skater legend. Having started skating during the big skateboarding boom at the end of the 70s, he helped create Swedish Skateboard Association (SSF), and has been involved with Swedish skateboarding cup events, the cult Swedish skateboarding summer camps of the mid-80s (which welcomed trainers and legendary skateboarders such as Tony Hawk), and Stockholm Suburban Surfers (SSS), and has been managing the ISSA World Ranking since 2000.
“We’re in our eighth year now and this is our third location on Tjärhovsgatan. The first shop was more of an underground shop and the next location was a much bigger and more modern shop. Now we have found a good balance between the two. Our clientele is everything from normal core skaters to beginners and tourists passing by from nearby hotels on the street. So it’s a great mix.”
“What I like about Tjärhovsgatan is that it’s quite calm and has a lot of charm and that good old Södermalm feeling. A very special thing for us is the skateboard park in Björns Trädgård which was one of the first places to have concrete pools for skateboarding in Stockholm and was created at the same time as we opened our shop. It’s very rare having that kind of a place this central in such a big city.”
Katarina Brandstation is the oldest operating fire station in Stockholm. The building had previously served as a beer brewery, a barracks for the city guard, and a cholera hospital before being turned into a fire department in 1876. In fact, the station is so old that in the beginning horses were used for fire rescue missions, only replaced by cars in 1914. The station even houses a small museum dedicated to the department and its long history.
“I began working here in ’81 and a memorable event for me was when Katarina Church burned down in 1990,” says fire chief Per-Åke Gavhed. “I would say our fire station is the most notable place on Tjärhovsgatan, with Kvarnen being another significant site. The street has more or less stayed the same in my time here, with the biggest change perhaps being the installation of the skating ramps in Björns Trädgård.”
“A regular day for us starts with checking the fire trucks and equipment. During the day we do exercises to prepare for different types of mishaps such as accidents in the traffic, metro, on the water (as we are situated on an island), fires of course and much more. We also have to take care of our station which we are very proud of!”
Noir & Blanc
Noir & Blanc inhabits a small and minimalistic showroom that reflects the name well. Black and white prints of models dressed in the latest collection deck the walls, along with a giant wooden sculpture that looks like a freshly dropped pile of pick-up-sticks with some wooden crates thrown in.
“Noir & Blanc creates sustainable everyday fashion for women that seek a clean Nordic silhouette,” says co-owner Petra Thoms. “We want the store to be a place where you can see our full collection and get a sense of what the brand stands for. We have reduced our prices to be able to reach out to a more mixed crowd and our clientele consists of older people looking for something fun and special and your typical young fashion slaves.”
“Because our store is relatively small, we always get to talk a lot to our customers and it’s very interesting being able to get that sort of direct feedback. It’s not always the people you have in mind when designing the items that end up going for them. Often we have sold our most extreme designs to women over 65 with a great sense of taste. Things like that makes it so much fun having your own store.”
“There’s a small-town feeling in the neighbourhood that makes the atmosphere here friendly and welcoming. The people on Tjärhovsgatan are very mixed, everything from cool hipsters to regular people living in the area. We’ve only been on the street for around two years and during that time it has changed significantly. With the central location and the closeness to popular shopping streets like Götgatan, Tjärhovsgatan seems to be developing into a more alternative shopping location, with many great cafés and restaurants. A lot of new stores are moving in lately, and it’s always good for us when similar stores open up. Together we can attract more people to our lovely street!”
X-Cons is a non-profit organisation specializing in supporting and guiding former criminals and addicts back into society. The association conducts visits to prisons and detention centres and holds lectures in schools, in addition to arranging social activities for its members, such as broadcasting a weekly radio program and publishing the organization’s regular magazine. The Tjärhovsgatan headquarters includes a café, a band set up, a pool table, a radio studio, and several bookshelves filled with literature. The walls are decorated with old music and movie posters, and murals of classy film star Marilyn Monroe and ABBA goddesses Agnetha and Anni-Frid are prominent in the hobby room.
Chairman Peter Söderlund came out of jail himself in 1998 and got involved with KRIS, a similar organization, before forming X-Cons in 2008. “The people who come here are people who want to change their life around. It’s a meeting-place for people that want to make the world a better place, and you help yourself at the same time you try to help others. We’re fighting for those guys over there,” he says as he motions towards the Katarina Norra School across the street. “I have five children myself and would like to try to leave the world a little bit better for them. I think that’s the responsibility of all adults.”
“Tjärhovsgatan has an interesting mix of kids, punks and former criminals. You see skateboarders go by, youngsters playing football on the fields next door, punk-rockers on their way to a gig at 44-an, and of course the fire trucks thundering by. It’s a very diverse street and it has a bit of an edge, although it’s safer now than it used to be. Back in the day we used to have homeless people break in here to sleep. You still see quite a lot of police around though, but this street always feels very safe and comforting to me.”
Ceramic artist at Kapsylen
“Tjärhovsgatan is a very special street to me! I’ve worked at different addresses on this street since 1989. The street has not changed as much as the area around it during the years, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. It’s a little bit like a small-town street, with many different kinds of activities. Kapsylen is like my second home and I spend a lot of my time here.”
English professor, Söder resident and a café regular at Tjärhovsgatan
“Tjärhovsgatan is one nice street amongst many. There are great contrasts here and the architecture on this street is really terrific, everything from wonderful 17th century farmhouses to grand 19th century buildings like Katarina Norra Skola. Then you have establishments like Kvarnen and recreational places like the Björns Trädgård skate park, and of course nice cafés and shops all along the street. Although technically Nofo, I would say Tjärhovsgatan should be an honorary member of Sofo as it has some of the same charms as that area.”
Centrum för fotografi at Kapsylen
“What makes Tjärhovsgatan stand out are all the beautiful buildings such as the fire station and Hotel Columbus with that nice backyard, the culture houses and galleries, the football fields, and the parks like Björns Trädgård, the dog poop park and the drunk park, where you see all kinds of people from toddlers to old bums. Then there’s the dive bars, the hip bars like Kvarnen, the Greek restaurant that’s become a hidden pearl in this area, the two kiosk lads that know everyone, the skater shop and all the other shops, and the traditional hot dog stand that’s not yet been converted into a Thai take-away stand. And let’s not forget the fire trucks that shake the houses as they roar past. The people here are a mix of celebrities, school children and parents that train in an alternative gym where they run around barefoot around the neighbourhood with tires on their shoulders.”